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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
01/11/2012
Wine and Food Wednesday
Good Food, Good Wine and “Pointless” Nights at the Table

By Stephen Eliot

I must admit that I alternately chuckle and grow weary of the endless debate and controversy that surrounds any discussion of the 100-point wine scoring system…or any other for that matter. Sometimes, the positions for and against recall scholasticism’s arguments of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, while at others, the battle seems nothing more than the nasty clash of angry ideologues redrawing the lines of permanent war.

I don’t like the 100-point system, but I too believe that it is 1) here to stay, 2) not inherently evil and 3) of reasonable value as long as kept in the context of an individual critic and not viewed as an absolute objective that should be obvious at all. We all seem to dislike it, but we all apologetically use it…it is the language and currency of the day and will remain so until something better comes along. For years now, it has been under attack, but it is still here. It is an imperfect road map, to be sure, but, even if it might not prevent one from hitting the occasional pothole or bump on the road, even an imperfect map can keep you from driving the car off the cliff.

Funny thing, though, “points” simply never occur to me when I am at the table enjoying this or that wine with this or that food. We spend four of five days a week rigorously tasting and, yes, grading wine, but when reaching the table all that changes. It is simply impossible to quantify the experience. There are way too many variables. There are “wow” moments, there are “ehs”, there are matches that are dismal, but I can honesty I cannot recall thinking in numerical terms as a way to express my happiness or disappointment with a food-and-wine match.

The point system, after all, is a quick relative index as to how much or how little I like a given wine relative to others of its type. I do not think of fine food and wine combinations in quite the same way. There are simply far too many variables for simple numbers to be of use. What the food is, how competently and creatively it was prepared, the quality of the wine, how well the two meshed, the service and ambiance of the restaurant, my particular mood and that of my companion…all these and more can impact the moment.

Great wines, truly great wines, can be made to taste awful if teamed with the wrong foods…think oysters and Hermitage or a shaved brussel-sprout salad dressed in a citrus vinagrette and old Cabernet (yes, I still remember that one!). On the other hand, wines of more humble means can be thoroughly delightful if the people, place and plate are right, and while, I would never hand out a hundred-point score to a simple Beaujolais, I recall a rainy night with a just such a wine and a bowl of lentils, bacon and fois gras that was about as good as good gets. The thing is, however, that there are better and lesser Beaujolais to be had. I could only hope that my restaurateur has chosen a good one, and in this case he did. If, however, I was shopping for a bottle to serve at home, I would not wholly ignore critical “points” in making my choice from a wider list of yet-untasted options. Yes, I confess that I pay attention to points too.

And that, dear readers, is all that I have to say about “point systems”...until the next time that it comes up for debate.


 

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